The Gunga Din
Many of the best musical ideas don't make sense on paper. That's certainly true in the case of the seemingly contradictory combination of European pop, '60s garage rock, shoegazing droning, and swamp lounge produced by the Gunga Din. Since its inception in 1998, the New York City five-piece has melded a mystifying combination of genres, which often seems to be an open invitation for listeners to argue over the origin of its sound. Comparisons often lobbed about in the band's favor include the Doors, X, Mazzy Star, Stereolab, PJ Harvey, the Birthday Party, and Jacques Brel — all of which may help to form a composite picture of the Gunga Din's sound. But more important, such disparate comparisons suggest the band has introduced a style that is all its own.
Likewise, the impressive backgrounds of the Gunga Din's members may prove significant to its unique pedigree, but certainly don't make much sense in explaining its sound. Guitarist and occasional vocalist Bill Bronson played bass in Congo Norvell and later-period Swans, while vocalist Siobhan Duffy invoked the No Wave spirit as drummer for God Is My Co-Pilot, and drummer Jim Sclavunos also plays percussion for Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. The band's 1999 debut, Introducing the Gunga Din (Tractor Beam), emphasized droning passages supported by keyboardist Maria Zastrow's shimmering Farfisa organ, while bassist Chris Pravdica plucked trance-inducing lines. Duffy supplied psych-laced drumming (prior to the addition of Sclavunos), while she and Bronson shared vocal duties. With the recent release of Glitterati (Jetset), the band has refined its sound to further breach multiple musical styles. On tracks like “Brave New World,” Duffy's doubled vocals add compelling minor-key harmonies, and the song's simmering structures seem suited to the soundtrack of a David Lynch film. “Under the Sun” interjects squirming reverb-soaked guitar lines over burlesque drums, hovering organ, and slinking bass. Bronson and Duffy's duet vocals on “Pastel Girl” sound like a lounge-damaged X, or a European version of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood's collaborations. Onstage, the band's presence draws the audience into its concentrated thousand-yard stare as songs build to subtle crescendos with hooks that flit around from a vocal line to punctuated organ chords to rhythmic grooves.
The Gunga Din performs Wednesday, April 19, at 9:30 p.m. with Jim Yoshii Pile Up and Deathcab for Cutie at Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St. (at Texas), S.F. Tickets are $7; call 621-4455.